If you have high blood pressure, you’ve probably been told to eat more potassium. As you nosh on the obligatory banana, how much do you know about this mineral? It is important for so much more than blood pressure.
Potassium is a mineral, a micronutrient, an electrolyte. By the way, electrolytes help your body conduct electrical charges.
Potassium helps keep your body functioning properly.
- nerves function
- muscles contract
- heart beat normally
- regulate fluid and minerals in/out of your cells
- maintain normal blood pressure
- proper kidney function
- regulate water balance and acid/base balance in the blood and tissues
- metabolism of energy
- metabolism of carbohydrates
- metabolism of glucose
- muscle building
Studies show eating potassium rich fruits and vegetables help improve bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis.
A potassium rich diet also helps prevent kidney stones by reducing the amount of calcium excreted.
Studies show increased potassium from fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of stroke, especially for those with high blood pressure.
Potassium flushes sodium from your body. Sufficient amounts of potassium help regulate sodium.
Potassium and sodium work together in your body. High sodium with low potassium tends to elevate blood pressure. Taking diuretics causes potassium to drop even lower.
Raising potassium, even if maintaining sodium levels, has shown to be more effective in reducing blood pressure than lowering sodium alone. You need more potassium in your body than sodium. The problem is we have more sodium than potassium. This is why a diet like the DASH diet is good for blood pressure. It is naturally high in potassium and low in sodium.
Teens and adults should be getting 4,700 mg of potassium per day.
Most people don’t get enough potassium. It is one of several minerals the population tends to be deficient in, especially low income populations. These are referred to as shortfall nutrients. Other shortfall nutrients we’ve learned about so far are Magnesium, Fiber and Vitamin D.
Levels too high or too low are bad for your heart and nervous system.
Signs of Deficiency
- increase blood pressure
- increase risk of kidney stones
- deplete calcium from bones
- muscles weakness
Low levels can be caused by excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, diuretics, too much licorice or certain medications.
Good Food Sources of Potassium
Potassium is found in a wide variety foods. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is naturally high in potassium and low in sodium . The problem is we don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. We eat processed foods. Oh, you knew that was coming.
Our diet’s sodium to potassium ratio should be 1:2. So if you consume lots of salt, you should also up your potassium to keep it balanced.
Potassium is also lost from foods during processing and cooking. Choose less processed foods and cook sparingly.
Bananas are rather low on the list. The best source? Greens! I suppose though, they recommend bananas because people are more likely to eat them.
The list provided by the World’s Best Foods is not only based on the amount of potassium, but on the nutrient density based on the amount of calories. For example, a cup of potatoes has only slightly more potassium than a cup of spinach, but it also has 4 times the calories. So spinach is ranked much higher as an excellent source of potassium.
Based on watching your calories and carbs, the 10 best sources are:
- beet greens
- Swiss chard
- bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- summer squash
If you don’t care about calories, carbs, sugar, etc. and just want good fruits and veggies the 10 best sources are:
- dried apricots
- Swiss chard
- acorn squash
- lima beans
- potatoes (especially the skins)
- sweet potatoes
There are many other sources of potassium. Fish, meat, nuts, herbs and spices all contain potassium.
Excess potassium is excreted mostly in the urine.
With normal kidney function, high potassium levels from food should be harmless.
With impaired kidney function, potassium can build up, since the kidneys aren’t flushing it out. This can also happen from certain medications.
When more potassium is in the body than the kidneys can handle it is called hyperkalima. Symptoms include tingling in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythm and temporary paralysis. This is unusual in healthy people.
What About Supplements
For otherwise healthy people, supplements aren’t recommended since when can get plenty of potassium from food.
You can’t get too much potassium from foods, but you can from taking too many supplements. Besides, food has so many others nutrients that come along with it!
What are your favorite sources of potassium?
Do you eat more potassium to control any of the discussed conditions?